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Football

Thursday night rewind

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Football

Scoreboard

Gibbs 28, St. Petersburg 7

Countryside 13, Palm Harbor University 10 (2 OT)

Prime time teams

Gibbs: Former Lakewood standout Louis Murphy Jr., who went on to win two national titles at Florida and play in the NFL, took over the Gladiators this offseason. After a lopsided loss to the Spartans in the season opener, Gibbs is showing signs of a turnaround. The Gladiators played tough in a 28-20 loss to Robinson last week. On Thursday, Gibbs put it all together, beating St. Petersburg 28-7 for Murphy Jr.’s first win as coach. 

Countryside: It has not always been pretty, but the Cougars are 3-0 for the second time in the past three years. On Thursday, Countryside showed its endurance, outlasting Palm Harbor University in double overtime in win 13-10. Logan Gregory delivered with a game-deciding field goal.   

Volleyball

Scoreboard

Calvary Christian 3, Clearwater Central Catholic 2

Carrollwood Day 3, Berkeley Prep 2

Keswick Christian 3, Shorecrest 1

Cambridge Christian 3, Bayshore Christian 1

Wharton 3, Freedom 0

Osceola 3, Seminole 0

Hollins 3, Northeast 0

Citrus 3, Hernando 1

Weeki Wachee 3, Crystal River 0

Plant 3, Sickles 0

Mitchell 3, Anclote 0

Newsome 3, Bloomingdale 0

Pinellas Park 3, Countryside 2

Riverview 3, Alonso 0

Middleton 3, Jefferson 0

Strawberry Crest 3, Armwood 0

Prime time teams

Calvary Christian: After struggling in the past six matches against quality competition, the Warriors put it all together against their biggest rival, beating Clearwater Central Catholic in five games. Both teams likely will square off again in the district tournament, maybe even in the postseason. 

Carrollwood Day: After a 10-day layoff, the Patriots resumed play with a pair of quality wins this week, the latest coming in five games against always tough Berkeley Prep. 

Hollins: From 2013-16, the Royals won a combined four matches. They have already surpassed that win total after sweeping Northeast on Thursday to get off to one of the best starts in program history. 

Weeki Wachee: The Hornets, who have finished with a winning record in each of the last seven seasons,are off to another solid start. They remain unbeaten (4-0) after sweeping Crystal River on Thursday. During its perfect start, Weeki Wachee has yet to lose a game. 

Prime time performers

RS Hannah Bowers, Jr., Riverview: Registered 13 digs, 9 kills and 4 blocks in a win over Alonso.

DS/OH Lauren Cairo, So., Calvary Christian: Finished with 18 kills and 11 digs in a win over Clearwater Central Catholic.

MH/OH Kristen Pizzano, Jr., Weeki Wachee: Led the Hornets with 11 kills and 9 digs in win over Crystal River. 

OH Noelle Walsh, Jr., Calvary Christian: Recorded 18 digs and 14 kills in a win over Clearwater Central Catholic. 

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Football

Tampa Bay Tech’s Rod Gainey transfers to IMG Academy

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Rod Gainey, one of the nation’s premier running backs in the Class of 2024, is leaving Tampa Bay Tech after one season to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Titans coach Jayson Roberts confirmed. 

As a freshman last season, Gainey rushed for 836 yards (7.7 per carry) and had 10 touchdowns on the ground to give Tampa Bay Tech’s high-powered passing game some balance. 

Already a youth league legend in Hillsborough County, Gainey’s performance in his debut high school season only solidified his stats as one of the county’s top recruits in his class. 

Gainey already has offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Toledo, UCF, USF and West Virginia, among others. 

This is the second offseason the Titans have lost a star ball carrier to IMG. Last year, Stacey Gage, an incoming freshman at the time, said he was deciding between Tampa Bay Tech and IMG. He ultimately joined the Ascenders, who are a national powerhouse. 

Though the loss of Gainey hurts, Roberts said the ground game still is in solid shape thanks to an offensive line that returns all five starters — Kai Gadson, Shaun Lango, Fred Neal, DJ Porcher and J’shon Scott. And that list does not include Melvin Sylvester, a 6-foot-5, 270 pound incoming freshman who should get plenty of playing time. 

James Evans, John Ponder and Ronald Sims will now handle the bulk of the rushing load, Roberts said. 

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Football

Meet Lakewood’s queen of the block

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Melia Garcia knew all about the success of Lakewood’s athletic program before arriving this year as an advanced placement and honors world history teacher.

The subject that really piqued her interest was football. Discussions about the sport constantly came up, particularly among the players in her classes.

Garcia was hooked. She became one of the Spartans’ most ardent supporters, attending nearly every game.  

Still, Garcia grew tired of watching from the stands. So she came up with an idea that would allow her to be more directly involved with the program.

In January, Garcia asked Lakewood coach Cory Moore about joining the football staff. 

There were no double takes from Moore, despite Garcia having no previous coaching experience. 

“I knew she was serious about it,” Moore said. “And I welcomed it because I saw just how good of a teacher Melia is in the classroom and how well she interacted with her students.

“I thought that was exactly the kind of addition we could use on staff.”

At first, Moore had Garcia observe offseason conditioning so they could decide the best fit for her as an assistant. 

Garcia zeroed in on the trenches. 

She wanted to coach the offensive line. 

“That’s the one area I felt most passionate about,” Garcia said. 

Women have broken plenty of barriers to coach at the highest level of football. There are currently eight female coaches in the NFL, including two on the staff of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. 

Those trailblazers helped pave the way for other females to become coaches in the college and high school ranks.

Garcia admires what they have done, but insists that is not the sole reason she wanted to pursue a job as an assistant. 

“I really wanted to set my own boundaries,” she said. 

So Garcia created her path by instructing big-bodied students to pave the way for others on the offensive side of the ball. 

The bond with blockers grew from her friendship with Tyler Armillay, a former standout lineman from Scranton, Pa. who went to play at Assumption and is now the offensive line coach at Endicott College.

Their conversations would often be about life on the line. Armillay taught Garcia the fundamentals of pass protection and moving defenders out of the way in the run game.

Garcia felt she could do the same with her students. 

Before that could happen, she needed acceptance. Garcia worried how a bunch of teenage boys would react to a female instructing them on the field. 

Those concerns were quickly soothed.

“Once the guys could see that she knew what she was talking about, they had a great relationship,” Moore said. 

Garcia gets her point across because she knows how to teach.

“I think they wanted someone that was nurturing enough to not crush their spirit but tough enough to make sure they didn’t mess around,” Garcia said.  

Her involvement is not restricted to drawing Xs and Os on a board. During spring practice, Garcia stood among her pupils as they jabbed and punched. She talked about body balance and counterstrikes and proper footwork.

Often, Garcia demonstrated by getting in the middle of piles. 

“Melia is not just some bystander,” Moore said. “At practice, she is in the dirt, in the grind. She’s hands-on all the way.”

Isaiah Cooper, a three-year starter who has played every position on the Spartans’ offensive line, was impressed. 

“She’s phenomenal,” Cooper said of Garcia. “You couldn’t even tell she was new. There were some things I didn’t know, that she knew. And she knows how to listen and find ways to relay the information in ways that we’ll understand.”

Her impact is felt off the field, too. 

Moore made Garcia an academic advisor. Players are required to turn in progress reports, complete with signatures from the teachers. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to practice. 

“The grades were a little rough for some, and now they’ve improved tremendously,” Cooper said. “Everything has gone a lot more smoothly as far as academics.”

And they should continue to improve with Garcia running study hall this fall.

“Melia has far exceeded my expectations,” Moore said. “In the classroom. On the field. She does it all.

“She is the real deal.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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